Natural resources are components found in nature to be used in benefit of human beings. Basic natural resources are rocks, minerals, soil, water, air, biodiversity and its habitat, and solar energy, among others.
Effective management of our natural resources requires government action and active citizen participation. The need to reduce environmental damage (soil, air, and water pollution, deforestation, and inadequate habitat intervention) in order to conserve nature —which all life depends on including human beings— is increasingly noticeable. The deterioration of the environment is due to industrial development, over-exploitation of natural resources to create products that meet the demands of consumerism, urban spillage, illegal movement of the earth’s crust, introduction of alien species, and use of land for agriculture.
Some natural resources are renewable; that is, they can be reused many times, replaced or re-grown, as long as human beings care for their regeneration (water, soil, animals, and plants). But there are others that are identified as non-renewable natural resources (such as fossil fuels) because their natural formation is very slow and complex; and there are those which are irreplaceable (such as hummocks and mountains).
In Puerto Rico, we can find a variety of natural resources which will be classified to ease their understanding:
1. Biological- those related to living organisms;
2. Hydric- related to water resources and their implications;
3. Geological and geomorphological- those related to the earth’s crust, what it is composed of and its implications;
4. Energy- from where we generate energy.
Coral reefs- colonies of marine organisms, mainly formed by stony corals. Coralline algae, fish, and invertebrates associated to these corals, live there and make up the coral reef. There are three types or forms of reefs in Puerto Rico:
• Platform Reefs- are separated from the coast by a shallow body of water, a strip of calm sea between reef and shore, which is known as “reef lagoon”.
• Barrier Reefs- border the extensive coastline. In Puerto Rico, some researchers believe the line of reefs in La Parguera is a barrier reef.
• Patch reefs- small reefs scattered along the coast that for various reasons have not been able to grow and develop.
Forests- natural areas or those created by humans that have high density and a variety of plants and trees, which, along with other biotic and physical components such as animals and soil, form an ecosystem of certain ecological value. Currently, Puerto Rico has 20 areas of protected forests. Our forests are classified into mountain forests, coastal forests, forests in the northern Karst area, and urban forests.
Wetlands– natural transitional areas —between aquatic and terrestrial systems— whose soils are frequently flooded or saturated by surface or groundwater. These shelter a type of vegetation that is specially adapted to living in these conditions and a wide variety of plant and animal species inhabit there.
Mangrove swamps- clusters of trees in the coastal zone that have certain adaptations that allow them to survive and develop in flooded land, subject to intrusion of brackish or saltwater. Among the adaptations, depending on the species, is tolerance to high levels of salinity, aerial roots, floating seeds, and specialized structures to allow the entry of oxygen into the submerged roots (pneumatophores). There are four species:
• red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle)
• white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa)
• black mangrove (Avicennia germinans)
• button mangrove (Conocarpus erectus)
Marsh- wetlands frequently or continually flooded with water and characterized by emergent vegetation and soft stalks, adapted to saturated soil conditions. There are freshwater and saltwater marshes.
Seagrass meadows- submarine plains on the coast, mainly inhabited by aquatic plants of the Thalassia testudium species which produce flowers and are known as seagrass or Thalassia. Development and growth of this seagrass are determined by factors such as temperature, amount of light, wave action, currents, and salinity. They provide food and habitat for a wide variety of marine organisms.
Wildlife- species of plants and animals inthe wild —including invertebrate organisms— whose propagation or natural survival does not depend on the zeal or cultivation by human beings, whether the species are native or were introduced and adapted to Puerto Rico. Unlike the continent, where there is a greater abundance of species, in islands of oceanic origin such as Puerto Rico there are generally more endemic or native species.
Coastal lagoons- They are not to be confused with reef lagoons. They are shallow bodies of water in the coastal zone that are connected to the sea, usually separated from the sea by strips of sand or sea segments. Because of their water composition, they are classified into three types:
• Marine lagoons- have direct exchange with the sea (Laguna Joyuda).
• Hypersaline lagoons- have little reflux back to the sea (Laguna Pozuelo).
• Brackish lagoons- seawater is diluted with terrestrial freshwater (Laguna San José).
Reservoirs- Man-made lakes whose main purpose is storing water for domestic and industrial consumption (Carraízo, La Plata), irrigation (Carite, Guajataca), electric power generation (Caonillas, Dos Bocas), and flood control (Cerrillos, Portugués). In most of these reservoirs, recreational activities such as boating and fishing take place.
Estuaries- areas where fresh water that flows from rivers, streams, and runoff mix with saltwater from the ocean. The types of estuaries are:
• Open bays (Mayagüez, Arecibo)
• Semi-closed bays (San Juan, Jobos)
• Groups of interconnected coastal lagoons associated with tidal plains (Torrecillas and Joyuda), and
• Saline coastlines associated with runoff from interior land (Parguera, Vieques, Culebra).
Thermal waters- are those that come to the surface with a temperature 5°C higher than the average annual temperature of the place from which it comes. The flow of water between different subsurface layers, in which rocks are at high temperature, produces its warming. This water carries several dissolved minerals that come from the rocks they flow over. The best known thermal spring in Puerto Rico is Baños de Coamo.
Rivers- streams of continuous, varying flow, which flow into a similar one: a lake, reservoir, or sea. It is a collection of surface runoff (rain, etc.). Its flow can feed on groundwater from aquifers (effluent) or it can feed surface runoff into the aquifer (influent).
Aquifers- underground water reservoirs contained in the empty spaces between sediments or in crevices between rocks. They are fed by infiltration of surface runoff and are one of the freshwater supplies mainly exploited by human beings.
Geological Natural Resources
Minerals- a natural or compound element, solid and inorganic, which has an established chemical composition and a determined crystalline shape, (gold, quartz, and calcite). Petroleum (organic) and mercury (liquid) are not minerals.
Rocks- natural aggregate of one or more minerals (granite, marble), a body of indistinct mineral matter (obsidian), or solid organic material (coal).
Sediments- fragments of solid matter that are transported and deposited by gravity, wind, water, ice which form unconsolidated layers (sand and gravel). Sediments can also form chemically when they are precipitated from a solution or organically when secreted from organisms.
Geomorfological Natural Resources
Caves- natural underground cavities which may or may not be composed of chambers and galleries. Cave formation occurs mainly by chemical and/or mechanical degradation of rocks.
Sand-dunes– large accumulations of sand that are deposited by waves and, with the help of wind, are displaced along the coast. They form from the interaction of components and natural processes such as coastal currents, waves, wind, sand, and vegetation.
Mountains- land elevations that are higher than a hill, which generally protrude over 300m (1000 feet) above surrounding lands. They can occur in isolation or in chains. They are the result of multiple factors and tectonic, volcanic, and eroding processes.
Beaches- In bodies of water, they are shores with mild slopes that are washed by the action of tides, especially those parts covered by sand, loose or lithified, and other sediments. These sediments are components of skeletal remains of aquatic organisms, rock and mineral fragments, and other materials subject to the movement of waves, ocean currents, and wind.
Coastal plains- plains found along areas on the coast; they are the result of different geological processes and of the effect of periodic flooding of the rivers.
Hummocks- mountains or hills made up primarily of limestone. A hummock, in the strictest sense of the word, is conic, asymmetrical and is isolated in the middle of an alluvial plain. The term is used colloquially to refer to any single limestone hill or hills are united in rows or chains. Hummocks are a typical expression of the Karst topography as well as sinkholes, caves, and caverns.
Salt mines- plains on the shore, where sea water penetrates inland through high tides, evaporates, and as a result accumulates salt on the ground. Salt mines serve as a habitat for a variety of species of native and migratory aquatic birds, commonly known as plovers.
Valleys- plains completely or partially surrounded by hills or mountains. These are the result of multiple geological factors and processes of erosion. Some have great agricultural value because their soils are mostly deep and fertile alluvial deposits.
Non-renewable: Fossil fuels that were formed millions of years ago from the remains of prehistoric plants and animals that were buried underground. In Puerto Rico, exploiting them is not feasible; therefore, we import and use some of them as sources of energy: petroleum (70 percent of the electricity generated in Puerto Rico comes from petroleum derivatives), coal, and natural gas.
Renewable: Hydropower- comes from the force of running water. It uses the force of water that hurries to be released from a dam to operate the electric generator. Today, less than 1 percent is used in Puerto Rico.
Solar energy- The sun is our most powerful energy resource. During the day, the Earth receives from the Sun an amount of energy equivalent to that contained in about two million barrels of petroleum. Photovoltaic cell systems convert sunlight directly into electricity. Given our geography, Puerto Rico is an ideal place for generating this kind of power.
Wind power- process by which wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity. Puerto Rico has great potential for taking advantage of this energy because it is in the passage of trade winds, which are considered the most constant ones in the world.
Biomass- organic matter such as plants, wood, and animal waste which can be used as a source of energy. In Puerto Rico, there are some private industries that use this type of energy.
Protecting our natural resources
It is the duty of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), created by Act Number 23 of June 20, 1972, to implement programs for using and conserving Puerto Rico’s natural resources. The DNER is responsible for implementing public policy in accordance with section 19 of Article VI of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and Ley de Política Pública Ambiental (Environmental Policy Act). As a measure to protect natural systems, there are legislation and regulations that DNER places in effect through various mechanisms and strategies:
• Designating nature reserves (political or administrative designation made to a coastal area because of its great diversity of species and high ecological value);
• Declaring state forests (to maintain these areas forested, developed, and managed rationally);
• Establishing interagency and co-management agreements;
• Creating a system for evaluating permits and franchises;
• Providing advice and endorcements for the projects;
• Overseeing special programs and projects and
• Overeeing the Public Policy on Energy
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 05, 2014.
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